Search for Canadian nuclear waste site

04 June 2010

Canada has begun a process to select a permanent storage site for its high-level radioactive wastes.


As determined by federal government in 2007, the plan is to dispose of used nuclear fuel from the country's nuclear power plants in a deep geological repository. This is to be located in an "informed and willing community" and the search for this has now begun.


Click to enlarge
An outline of the Canadian plan
to permanently manage used
nuclear fuel (Image: NWMO)

The body responsible for the job is the Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NWMO), which began a nationwide dialogue on the topic of long-term waste management last year with the aim of including people's input in the design of the siting process.


Key to this 'Adaptive Phase Management' process is that communities are in constant conversation with the NWMO and can withdraw from the process at any time. With most of Canada geologically suitable for underground waste storage, the most important thing for NWMO is to build confidence that the program is being carried out fairly and the end result will be safe.


The facility itself will be about 500 metres underground within a large block of solid rock. The highly radioactive bundles of used Candu fuel will be placed in a metal basket within a 4 metre copper canister. These will be regularly spaced underneath a network of tunnels in the rock and packed into place with bentonite clay. In time all the facility's tunnels would be sealed with clay, but the possibility of re-opening and removing the fuel would remain as a key long-term safety feature. It it this ability that leads to language describing storage in a repository rather than disposal.


Depending on the site's geology, the network of tunnels could span an area of about 2.5 kilometres by 1.5 kilometres (375 ha). The NWMO would need rights to the entire area but only about 100 ha would be taken up by surface buildings and the rest could be used in collaboration with locals.


Immediate benefits for local people would include increased employment, higher incomes and an overall boost to the economy. The NWMO said, "In most cases, the project could be a catalyst for dramatic improvements in community well-being and sustainability for the long-term. The infusion of new employment and associated business activity could provide the basis for major investments in people (e.g. education and training), infrastructure, and other community assets deemed of value to a host community and region."


A very similar technology and process is at a late stage in both Finland and Sweden where sites have been selected with the satisfaction of local people. The UK is slightly further along than Canada in the same process, having found those communities interested in the project although it is yet to announce the results. In all of these countries it has been the people living near to nuclear facilities that have been most comfortable with the idea of a repository and enthusiastic about coming forward.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News